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Bill Charlap Trio with Freddy Cole: Carrying the Torch

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In our time, when so many of our loved “professors of piano” are no longer with us—we have no Oscar Peterson, no Tommy Flanagan, no Hank Jones—only a handful of players are filling that void. Bill Charlap is one of that select group, a sort of hybrid of Bill Evans and Red Garland. He’s a standard-bearer for elegant, tasteful, swinging piano work, and a champion of the popular music of America. Some of his most memorable recordings feature work by Hoagy Carmichael, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin.

Bill Charlap is a busy musician. As well as regular appearances with his wife, pianist Renee Rosnes, and a recent 50-city tour with a septet celebrating the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, he is the artistic director of New York’s Jazz in July Festival.

One of Charlap’s favoured musical configurations is the piano trio. The Bill Charlap Trio was formed in 1997, and it has risen to the top ranks in the performing and recording world. Two of the Trio’s recordings—Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein and, more recently, The Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard—were nominated for Grammy awards. All have been warmly received by audiences and critics alike.

To me, Peter Washington, the bass player, is the world’s foremost authority on Paul Chambers—he has that sound. Peter is one of the most important bass players around, a first-call for the jazz connoisseur. Kenny Washington (unrelated), the drummer, is a post-bop/hard bop purist—very precise, very tasteful, very selective in the music he plays and the musicians he plays with. He also hosts his own jazz radio show.

For these Winnipeg concerts, the Bill Charlap Trio will be joined by one of the living legends of jazz, Freddy Cole.

What needs to be said about Freddy Cole? He’s a beautiful jazz musician, a balladeer with that golden phraseology that so many great singers have sought. He has a sweet touch at the keyboard too. Now in his 80s, he brings to the stage a long and illustrious career as a performer and recording artist. His trio has been touring regularly for decades, and he continues to produce recordings almost annually. He’s not losing steam either—a recent one, Freddy Cole Sings Mr B, was nominated for a Grammy.

Cole is the youngest of a musical family (visitors in his childhood home included Duke Ellington and Count Basie) and there’s no doubt he is carrying on the legacy of his brother, Nat “King” Cole. Freddy’s voice is a little deeper, a little darker. I hear Johnny Hartmann in his styling—warm, elegant, swinging. He is definitely in the top echelon of the singers. The New York Times calls him “the most maturely expressive male jazz singer of his generation, if not the best alive.” I couldn’t agree more.

The Bill Charlap Trio plus Freddy Cole—and they’re performing Cole Porter’s classic tunes? This concert is going to swing Winnipeg audiences right out of their seats!

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